File last modified: 150430
Go to main Nahuatl page.

The Wonderful Toltecs

Source: The following text comes from Sahagún's "General History" (Book X, Appendix, chapter 29), but the spelling has been modernized, and it appears in Michel Launey's Introduction à la Langue et à la Littérature Aztèques (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1980, vol. 2, pp. 212-227). What is used here is only the first few lines, pp. 212-217. I have substantially abridged the text and rendered it into English, guided in part by Launey's French version, and have added vocabulary notes. In a few cases I have changed the vowel length markers, usually to agree with Frances Karttunen's reconstructions in her An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl (Austin: U. of Texas Press, 1983). The line numbers agree with those in Launey's chrestomathy.

Format: The macrons normally used to indicate long vowels in Nahuatl (ā, ē ī and ō) are here replaced with umlauts (ä, ë, ï, and ö) to agree with the usage in the on-line Nahuatl lessons and reference grammar. The first line includes a demonstration analysis to show how the vocabulary items apply to the text to produce the translation. The user is invited to try similar analyses with subsequent lines.

Background: The Aztecs knew that people they called the Toltecs (Töl-tëcah, or people of the reeds —from tölin = reed and tëcatl = person— who dwelt at Töllän, the place of the reeds) had ruled Mexico in earlier times, and they were relentless in raiding Toltec ruins for any curios they could find. In general their view of the Toltecs, like the Medieval view of the Roman empire, was that the Toltecs had created a wonderful civilization, admirable in all respects, as shown by their clever handicrafts and beautiful architecture. The general attitude is well reflected in the following passage.

1. In ic centlamantli, ïntöcä Töltëcah: iuh mihtoa, yehhuäntin achto nemicoh in nicän tlälli ïpan in mihtoa Mexihcatlälpan, in Chichimëcatlälpan. First, those named the Tolteca: according to what people say, they first came to live here in the land called land of the Mexica, land of the Chichimeca.
in ic centlamantli = firstly, the first thing
achto = earliest, first
in nicän (the in removes the sense of motion from nicän?)
mëtztli = moon
tocaitl = name
nemi = to live
tlälli = land
-pan (suffix) = in, on, over, in the presence of
Form Challenge 01: What are the elements making up the word Chichimëcatlälpan?
2. Auh quëzqui.tzon.xihuitl2 nenqueh in ömpa Tölläntzinco2.In ca nelli ömpa nenqueh, miyac ïnnëzca2 qui.tlälih.t.ëhua.queh2: And for several four-hundreds of years they dwelt in the vicinity of Tollantzinco (the Venerable Töllän). They really lived there, they left many of their traces which they had fashioned.
in ca nelli = really and truly, I kid you not
miac/miyac = very much, many; Pleides
tlälia Vt3 = to seat, settle, put down, place
nëci = to appear
nëzcayötl = mark, sign
ëhua Vi1 = to depart
3. in ömpa quichïuhqueh in ïnteöpan catca3 , in ïtöcä huapalcalli. In äxcän ca cah ca mani; tël in ic ahhuel polihui, ca tetl ca texcalli. In that area they made what was their temple; its name was "house of beams." Today it stands; it exists, considering that it is indestructible; for it is rock, stone.
texcalli = volcanic rock outcropping; oven catca = pluperferct form used as preterit of irregular verb ye = to be.
inic = the reason why this is so…
hualpalli ˜ huelpalitl= board, small beam
äxcän = now
cah = was (preterit form, sometimes also used for present)
texcalli = volcanic rock; oven
tël = but
in ic = as to why
ahhuel = impossible
Ixca = to bake st, to fire [pottery]
4. Niman ömpa yahqueh, ömpa nemitoh, niman ömpa nenqueh in ätoyatënco in Xicocotitlan, in äxcan motöcäyötia Töllän. Then there they went; they went to live, to dwell there on the banks of a river at Xicocotitlan ("place of the bumblebee"), now called Töllän (Tula).
ätöyätl = river
xïcohtli (-tin, -meh) = bumblebee
-tënco (suffix) = along the edge of
töcäyötia Vt3 = to name
töcäyötl = a name
-tia = providing st ? causative tia
tölin = grass, sedge, reeds
Form Challenge 04: Nemitoh and nenqueh both come from the verb "nemi" "to live." What is the difference between them? How should the translation be modified to follow the Nahuatl more literally?

Return to top.

5. In ca nelli ömpa cemonoca5 , ömpa nenqueh, ca nö miyac in ïnnëzca in quichïuhqueh, auh in quicäuhtëhuaqueh: Because they truly resided there together, they dwelt there, so also many are their traces which they produced and left behind
onocVi1 = to be lying down (composed of o + no, a preterit form used as present
nemi = to live, dwell
cähua = to abandon
chïhua = to make
cahua Vt2 = to leave behind
tëhua Va = to depart, having (Verb)-ed
quichïuhqueh = that they made
Form Challenge 05: Is it appropriate to interpret "in" as meaning "which" here? Why (not)?
6. in äxcän ca onoc, ca itto, in ahmo quitzonquïxtihtiyahqueh6 , in mihtoa cöhuätlaquetzalli …; [one thing that] is there today, which is to be seen, which they did not finish [is] the so-called serpent column …;
tzontli = head; hair
tzonquïxtia Vi2 = to grow hair; for something to end
quetza Vt = to stand
temimilli = stone column
tlaquetzalli = column
7. auh ca itto in Töltëca-tepëtl, auh ca onoc in Toltëca-tzacualli, in tlatïlli, auh in Töltëca-tlaquïlli; And the Tolteca mountain is to be seen; and the Tolteca pyramids, the mounds, and the surfacing of Tolteca [temples].
itta Vt1 = to see
tillini Vt 2= to heap up
tlatïlli = hill, tripod, sales table
tzacualli = small hill, temple, pyramid
tlaquïlli = surfacing
8. auh onoc in Töltëca-tlapalcatl itto, auh äno in tlällan in Töltëca-caxitl, in Töltëca-cömitl; auh miyacpa äno in tlällan in Töltëca-cözcatl, in mäcuextli in mähuiztic, in chälchihuitl, in teöxihuitl, in quetzalitztli. And Tolteca fabrics are there to be seen, and tolteca bowls in the earth, Tolteca pots are taken from the earth. And many times there are taken from the earth Tolteca jewels: awesome arm bands, turquoise, emerald-green jade.
-tlapal = side
päca Vt2 = to wash
tlapäcatl = washing; textiles
caxitl = bowl
cömitl = pot, bowl, olla
chälchihuitl = jade (green or white)
cözcatl = jewels
mäcuextli = bracelets
mähuiztli = awe
mähuiztic = awsome
miyacpa = many times
chälchihuitl = jade; turquoise
teöchihuitl = turquoise

Return to top.

9. Auh iniqueh in Töltëcah, ca mo-Chichimëca-ihtoah, ahtle huel cencamatl9 ïntöcä: zan ïntech män, ïntech quïz in ïntöcä, in ïnnemiliz, in ïntlachïhual in ic töltëcah, mihmatinih. And these Tolteca called themselves Chichimeca. There [was] no single word for them. Their name is taken from —it comes from— their manner of life, the works of their artisans [töltëcah], their way of dong things.
ahtle = nothing
camatl = mouth (by extension: term)
ihmati Vt2 = to be deft, expert, careful about, expert in st
ïntöcä = their name
chïhua Vt2 = to make
m.ihmati.nih (pres. agentive) = their way of doing things
Form Challenge 09: What does ïnnemiliz mean?
10. Mochi cualli, mochi yëctli, mochi mihmati. Mochi mähuiztic in ïntlachïhual. Cualli in ïncal, tla.xiuh.zalö.li10 , tlahtlahchictli10 , tlahtlaquïlli, huel mähuiztic. The Tolteca were beautiful, all pure, all wise. Their works were all good, all perfect, all wonderful, all marvelous; their houses beautiful, tiled in mosaics, smoothed, stuccoed, very marvelous.
mochi = all
cualli = good, beautiful
yëctli = of pure character
mati Vt2 = to know
mähuizti Vi1 = to be esteemed
aquia Vt3 = to adjust, to fit
tla (object prefix) if reduplicated (tlahtla) shows multiple things
ihchiqui Vt2 = to scrape, to smooth
tlaquïlï = covered, pollished, stuccoed
Form Challenge 10: What are the parts of tlahtlahchictli?
11. Cän mach mihto11 in Töltëca-calli? Huel tla.tlahmach.tlälïlli11 , huella töltëcahuïlli11 , in ïtlateömatiyän catca in ïnteöpixcäuh catca, in ïtöcä Quetzalcöätl. Huellamähuizölli catca. What can one say of a Tolteca house? It was built with consummate care, artistically designed; it was the place of worship of their priest, whose name was Quetzalcöatl. It was quite marvelous.
cän mach mihto = How can one speak of
catca = former (no verbal force here
cän ˜ cänmach = where; wherefore (= how, why)
huellatöltëcahuïlli = made by artists
mach = indeed, very much, positively
tlahmach = sweetly, cleverly
töltëcatl = wonderful artisan
tlahmachtlälïlli = cleverly put down
tlahmati Vi2 = to be clever, quick witted; to practice deception.
tlamati Vt2 = to know st
catca Vi = was
teöpixtli = priest
tlatëomati Vi = to worship
Form Challenge 11: What are all the parts of ïtlateömatiyän?
12. Näuhtemanca: centetl tläpcopa itztihcaca, inin teöcuitlacalli. In ic mihtoa teöcuitlacalli. In tlaquïlli pöhuiya: hehhuätl in cöztic teöcuitlatl tlatemantli, tlazalölli. It was spread out in four parts. One was facing east; this house was of gold. For this reason was it called the house of gold. That which served as the stucco was gold plate applied, joined to it.
näuh = four
mana Vt2 = to extend, spread out, pat flat
itzticaca = to be facing
tlapcopa = east
cuitlatl = dung
teöcuitlatl = gold (lit: dung of the gods)

[It is not clear whether rooms or individual buildings are meant here. Another house or room faced west and was covered with fine turquoise and called the "house of jade" (chälchiuhcalli). Another faced south and was covered with shells and called the house of shells (tëccizcalli). Another faced the north; it was covered with red shells.]

Return to top.

16. Ïhuän ommanca in ihhuicalli16 : ihhuitica in tlahtzontli16 calihtic in tlaquïlli pöhui. And there was the house of feathers. That which served as the stucco inside the house was a covering of feathers sewn on.
mani Vi1 = to spread out, to be
ihhuitl = small feathers
ihtzoma Vt1 = to sew
-ihtec, -ihtic (suffix) inside of (from ihtetl = belly)
cal.ihtic = inside the house
tlaquïlli = surfacing
pöhui =Vi2 to belong ("belong to" is ïtech pöhui in NOUN)

[The feather house itself consisted of four parts. The east-facing one was covered with yellow feathers.]

18. Auh in cihuätlämpa itztihcaca, in mihtoa tönatiuh ïcalaquiyämpa, mihtoäya quetzalcalli; And [one] was facing west, toward what is called the sun's setting place; it was called the quetzal house.
cihuätl = woman
cihuätlampa = the west
itzticaca = to be facing
tönatiuh = the sun
quetzal = a rare bird with bright red and green feathers now occasionally found in Guatemala
calaquia Vt3 = to close something inside
calaqui Vt2 = to enter (probably from calli = house plus aqui = to enter)
Form Challenge 18-A: What are all the the parts of ïcalaquiyämpa?
Form Challenge 18-B: What words have been translated "the sun's setting place"? What are the parts of the expression?

[The feathers were from quetzal (quetzalli) and cotinga (xiuhtötötl) birds. Facing south was one covered with feathers of eagles and other white birds. And the north facing one was covered with red feathers, such as those of the red spoonbill (quechölli) and the red arara (cuezalin).]

22. Huel miyac in mähuiztic quichïuhqueh calli: Ca ätlan in ihcac ïcal Quetzalcöätl, in ïtlateömatiyän catca; Very many were the marvelous houses which they made. Standing near the water was the house of Quetzalcoatl, which was his place of worship.
mähuistic = awesome, marvellous
ätl = water
ihca Vi1 = to stand (Preterit ihcac is used for present.)
Form Challenge 22: What are all the parts of ïtlateömatiyän?
23. ïpan quïztihcac in huëyi ätl, in ätoyatl in quïztihcac Töllän. oncän in ihcaca in ïneältiäyän catca Quetzalcöätl, in mihtoa Chälchiuhäpan. a large body of water passed by it; the river which passed by Tula. There stood that which was the bathing place of Quetzalcoatl, called Chälchiuhäpan ("In the Waters of Green Stones").
quïza Vi2 = to emerge
quïz.tihcac = to emerge (as a constant state)
huëyi = large
ätoyatl = river
ältia Vt3 = to bathe
catca = is

Return to top.

24. Miyac in tlällan in ihcac calli, in oncän tlahtlahtlatöcatiyahqueh in yehhuäntin Töltëcah. Many houses stood within the earth where the Tolteca left many things buried.
töca = to bury
tlahtlahtlatöca = to bury all over the place
25. Auh inin, ahmo zan iyoh ömpa in nëci in ïnnëzca Töltëcah, in ïntzacual, in ïntlatïl in ömpa mihtoa Tollän, in Xicocotitlan: And these, the traces of the Tolteca, their pyramids, their mounds, at the places called Töllän (Tula) [and] Xicocotitlan,
iyoh = uniquely, only
nëci Vi2 = to be visible
nëzcayotl = sign, trace tzacualli = small hill, temple, pyramid
tlätilli = earth, land
26. zan huel nöhuiyän in quitzauctimanih, ca nöhuiyän nëci in ïntlapalcauh, in ïncön, in ïntexölouh, in ïnneneuh, in ïncoconëuh … . but practically everywhere they are left; everywhere there appear their potsherds, their ollas, their pestles, their figurines … .
nöhuiän = everywhere tzacua Vt2 = to close, enclose, lock up
tzauc.timani = bo be enclosing (Here: leaving behind)
nëci Vi2 = to appear
tlapacatl = cloth
cömitl = pottery
texölötl = pestle
nenetl = figurine; female genitalia
coconëtl = doll, figurine
27. Nöhuiyän cah in ïnnëzca, ïpampa ca cemmantocah in yehhuäntin Töltëcah. Their traces are everywhere, because the Tolteca were dispersed all over.
nöhuiän = everywhere nëci Vi2 = to be visible
mani Vi1 = to spread out
man-toca = lay spread out (past tense)
Content Challenge 27-A: Of the kinds of birds mentioned in this text, how many can you find pictures of on the Internet? (How do we know those are the right birds?)
Content Challenge 27-B: If "their traces are everywhere," archaeologists should find them all over the place. Do they? Compared with other peoples, did Toltecs actually leave lots of "traces"? Explain. What kinds of "traces" did they leave on the World Wide Web?

Return to top.